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The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War

author  · Stephen Crane

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Psychological novel, war novel

language  · English

time and place written  · 1893–1895, New York

date of first publication  · October 5, 1895

publisher  · D. Appleton and Company

narrator  · The narrator speaks from the third-person limited omniscient point of view, relaying the thoughts and feelings of Henry but not those of the other characters.

climax  · Henry Fleming and Wilson lead the 304th Regiment to an unlikely victory over the rebels, seizing the enemy’s position and their flag.

protagonist  · Henry Fleming

antagonists  · The Confederate Army; the Union general who calls the soldiers of the 304th Regiment “mule drivers” and “mud diggers”

point of view  · Henry Fleming’s

setting  · An unspecified time during the Civil War; the battle described in the novel is most likely a fictional account of the Battle at Chancellorsville, which took place May 2–6, 1863.

falling action  · After capturing the enemy’s flag, Henry reflects on his experiences in battle and decides that he is a man of courage.

tense  · Past

foreshadowing  · Henry’s early conversations with Jim Conklin and Wilson establish the choice he will later face in battle: whether to fight or flee; Henry’s encounters with death (the corpse in the woods and Jim Conklin) anticipate Henry’s acceptance of the universe’s indifference.

tones  · Detached, journalistic, realistic, impressionistic, sardonic, humorous, pathetic, violent

themes  · Traditional versus realistic conceptions of courage, honor, and manhood; the human instinct to survive as pitted against the universe’s grand indifference; the struggle between self-interest and group obligation; the psychological effects of realizing one’s own mortality; development from innocence to experience

motifs  · Noise (gossip, battle, bravado) versus silence; youth and egoism versus maturity and selflessness; mortality as a defining principle of courage and honor; accepting one’s past as a necessary (and humbling) step toward maturity

symbols  · Because Crane was so invested in portraying a young soldier’s experience as accurately as possible, the novel is not highly symbolic. There are a few exceptions: the dead soldier in the “chapel of trees”; the red sun setting after Jim Conklin’s death (nature’s indifference to human existence); the flag (beauty and invincibility).